Understanding Photoshop is a biweekly column that takes an in-depth look at how digital photographs are built and manipulated. It is a college-level course in plain English for free at Photofocus. To learn more see this article.

Don’t skip column 21

Smart Objects are a bit of under the hood Photoshop magic. Essentially, this powerful command allows you to embed raster or vector data into a layer. The layer can then be transformed indefinitely because the embedded data remains editable and scalable. You can convert one or more layers into a new Smart Object or choose to add new content as a Smart Object.

A Smart Object is simply one file embedded inside another. This can be very useful because Smart Objects allow greater flexibility than simply applying the Free Transform command to a regular layer. With a Smart Object, you can perform multiple nondestructive transforms with no loss in quality (as long as you don’t exceed the pixel dimensions of the original raster object).

1. Open the file Smart_Object_BG.psd. A background design for a multimedia presentation opens. Let’s add a photo layer.

2. Choose File > Place to add a new document as a layer. Select the file Smart_Object.tif and click Place.

Fig 04_33 Smart Objects1

TIP: Another path to a Smart Object

Besides using the Place command to create a Smart Object, you can select one or more objects in the Layers panel and choose Layer > Smart Objects > Group into New Smart Object.Fig 04_34 Smart Objects2

3. Size the image using the control handles. The controls are identical to those you used with the Free Transform command. Scale down the image to a very small size. Apply the transformation by clicking the Commit button.

4. Now, lets try scaling the image larger. Invoke the Free Transform command for the selected layer by pressing Command+T (Ctrl+T). Scale up the image to its original size. Apply the transformation. Notice that the image remains sharp. This is because the Smart Object contains a full resolution copy of the image embedded inside the layer.

TIP: Smarter Smart Objects

In Photoshop, you can apply perspective transformations to Smart Objects as well. Simply follow the instructions in the Free Transform Command section earlier in this chapter.